When it comes to sex, performance anxiety has pretty much always been labelled a guy thing.
(‘Dude, can you get it up, keep it up, and rock her world?’). It is a lot of pressure. But the truth is, women suffer from similar bedroom hang-ups. In fact, according to a recent study, female performance anxiety, or FPA, has always existed. And it can mess with desire, and rob women of satisfying sexual experiences.
“FPA manifests from the same place as men’s—it’s the fear of not being good enough,” explains Jim Pfaus, a psychology professor at Concordia University, Canada. Common causes include a woman’s worries about what she looks like naked, what she smells or tastes like ‘down there’, whether she’s having sex ‘right’, and if she’s pleasing her partner. Then there’s the biggie: stressing about taking too long to climax or whether she will O at all.
Research shows that this last trepidation, called orgasm anxiety or preorgasmia, is a top FPA concern. “Some women have thoughts like, ‘Can I get there? Is my partner getting bored?’”, explains Nicole Prause, a US-based neuroscientist and psychologist researching human sexual behaviour. “Others have a fear of actually orgasming. They worry that they’ll look ridiculous, and they can’t let their guard down.”
“When you’re anxious, you’re really at war with your ability to experience pleasure,” adds LA-based clinical sexologist and sex coach, Patti Britton. That’s because your brain is in fight-or-flight mode, during which its sole concern is to get rid of what’s nagging you. So even if what you’re doing should feel amazing, your mind can’t register the erotic sensations.
Don’t despair, though. You can take these steps to help quell FPA and find bliss.
1. Touch Yourself
Not only can solo sex help with everyday stress (by releasing feel-good chemicals throughout your body), it can also be a great way to learn the moves that satisfy you, which you can then relay to a partner. “Try masturbating without the expectation of orgasm,” advises Laci Green, a US-based sex educator and author of Sex Plus: Learning, Loving, and Enjoying Your Body. “Take climax completely off the table, and turn your focus toward pleasurable sensations and how you feel. Experiment and figure out what turns you on.”
2. Silence Neggy Thoughts
Hating on your naked bod can be powerful enough to screw with your arousal and make you avoid sex altogether, per a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. So first, remember: “Being confident in yourself is the biggest turn-on,” says US-based sex and relationship coach, Courtney Clemen. To tap into your hot goddess vibes during the deed, engage in some sensory play by turning off the lights or blindfolding yourself. “When you turn off one of your senses, the others are magnified,” says Courtney. And that can make you zone in on every titillating touch.
3. Relax With Scents
If your mind still won’t STFU, natural essential oils could help create a calmer, sexier energy, says Patti. Try taking a whiff of valerian-root oil, an herb that can lower frantic brain activity. (It does this by boosting the amount of a Zen-promoting neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid.) Or burn a lavender-scented massage candle that doubles as a relaxant and a sultry foreplay treat.
4. Use Your Words
“‘Did you come?’ is probably the most prevalent question asked in bedrooms by men, and that’s tragic,” says Patti. Both sex and communication shouldn’t stop or be measured by an orgasm alone. Work on having an ongoing dialogue throughout your sex session. Give each other useful directives such as ‘Harder’, ‘Keep going’, ‘Right there’, or ‘I love it when you do this...’.
5. Watch Your Breath
A clear sign FPA is robbing you of a great time in the sack: quick and shallow breathing when you’re nowhere near climax. If this happens, actively turn your attention to inhaling and exhaling deeply and slowly—just like you would when meditating. This will release tension and get you back to feeling all the satisfaction.
When to See a Therapist:
if the above tricks do nada, connecting with a professional therapist, specifically a sexologist, can help determine your precise FPA hang-up and how to address it.